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Product Development

Design

An Easy Answer to Olive Pit Etiquette

May 15, 2014

Enjoying olives discreetly isn’t always easy. Where do you ditch the pit? In a crumpled napkin? On the side of your hors d’oeuvre plate for everyone to see? The usual options aren’t exactly attractive. With that in mind, we created the Olive Server.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

This innovative dish solves the pit problem, holds your picks, and displays those tangy, salty treats in style. To design the Olive Server, our Product Development Team partnered with Paul Brothe, a ceramicist who conceptualized the piece based on his love of nature-inspired ceramics, a modern, lead-free take on traditional Majolica pottery, and the goal of keeping pits unseen.

Sketches

When Brothe first presented his prototype, we loved that it was made of sturdy earthenware painted a natural green color, and provided a way to both serve olives and hide pits. From there, we made a few adjustments to make the Olive Server even more appealing to our customers who want practical serveware with a fun twist.

Original Prototype

While the original design featured a porcine, two-holed opening for depositing pits, we decided to give the pit cavern an oval shape and one larger hole. We wanted to make the piece really pop, but we didn’t want to detract from the realistic olive form, so we chose four colors to accentuate the incorporated shapes.

Process

The fruit-shaped basin is actually two parts. The bowl holds the pits, keeping them in one place for easy cleanup, while the lid keeps them under cover. We chose to line the bowl with a pimento-inspired burnt orange and give the exterior an olive green color. We also added a shade of green to the “leaf” where the olives sit and a branch-hued brown to the pick holder. Now each individually-functional element of the server is uniquely eye-catching, enhancing the look of the all-in-one display.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

To create the finished servers, each piece is cast from a mold, inspected and trimmed, thoroughly dried, and then fired overnight at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

trimming_sqfired_sq

Two techniques are used to glaze these bisque fired pieces—dipping and brushing. The glazing is done by hand using special glazes formulated in-house at Brothe’s Jersey City, NJ studio, so the colors are truly unique. The colored servers are then fired overnight one more time, allowing the glazes to fuse together and create a smooth, glassy surface.

Glazing

The result is a high-quality dish that provides an attractive way to serve olives, keeps pesky pits out of sight, and is uncommon enough to stir conversation at any cocktail or dinner party.

Buy the Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

Design

How the Bike Tote was Born

April 30, 2014

When developing a product from scratch, we need to think through all of the details. We think about functionality and ask ourselves basic questions. When we created our Bike Tote those questions were: How will the bag hold objects? How much will it hold? How will it be secured? How will it be carried? What materials do we use to make sure the job gets done?

Here’s how we answered some of those questions.

Bike Tote | UncommonGoods

The tricky thing about this project was making sure the bag would fit the needs of a bike rider. Safety is integral. First, the bag needed to be well-secured to a bike’s handlebars without interfering with the front wheel.

How we made it happen: Sourcing the right buckles.

Bike Tote Buckles

This was our greatest sourcing challenge. We recognize that depending on the style of the bike or gears you have, strapping the bag on or off could be a challenge, so we made sure to source components that would work for as many bike styles as possible.

The buckles needed to open up so that we could completely detach the straps and fasten to any bike. They also needed to firmly and securely support the weight of the bag, without breaking, loosening, or slipping on the bike. After evaluating several different buckle and strap options, we chose these cam buckles.

In addition to securing the bag to the bike, we had to refine the cotton shoulder strap, making sure it made sense for a bike rider. We wanted to develop a true tote bag with a longer shoulder strap, but we didn’t want the strap to fly around in the wind or interfere with the bike in any way.

How we made it happen: A floating zipper.

Bike Tote Zippers

The zipper is isolated from the rest of the bag, which means the bag can be opened fully. It allows a bike rider to place the entire shoulder strap into the bag, with the zipper closed on top of it. The strap is securely tucked inside the bag, instead of hanging loose.

We know that when you’re on the road, dirt and gravel fly up, and things get pretty dirty pretty fast. We wanted to make sure the bike tote would stay as nice as possible, despite being an active bag.

How we made it happen: Black bottom panel.

Bike Totes| UncommonGoods

We lined the bottom of the bag with black fabric to hide any smudges. Remember – because of the buckles, the bike tote can’t be machine washed or dried, so hand-washing and line-drying are your best bets for keeping it in top shape.

As a final design touch, we wanted to help bike riders increase their visibility both from a distance and in the dark.

How we made it happen: Reflective tape around the bag. The strip of reflective tape allows for more visibility of riders as they cruise along and show off their very cool bike tote.

Safety first--reflective tape!

Testing the Bike Tote

Once the product met all of the criteria we outlined, we we needed to make sure it was truly road ready. To test it, one of our team members gave it a try on her road bike to make sure our claims were holding up. “I’m basically going to try and break it,” she informed us.

Weighs

In her words:

“I filled it with as much heavy stuff as I could. I started with books and when that didn’t break the bag, I tried weights (two 5 lb. weights) and large bottles (3 wine-sized bottles). The bag was a bit too big for the bike handlebars on the bike I was testing it on, so for the actual weight test I attached it to the bike cross bar and left it hanging overnight.”

The tote successfully held the weight, and we were pleased to find out that it is capable of transporting a lot of wine. (You never know when you might need to to perform just that function!)

Overall, creating the Bike Tote was fun, we got to work with awesome artists Jason Snyder and Briana Feola (who created the art featured on the tote’s fabric), and we can be proud that we developed a product that’s stylish, high-quality, and super functional.

Gift Guides

Your Graduation Gift Questions Answered

April 18, 2014

Graduation is a special time in one’s life, so I’m excited to answer a few questions finding the perfect gifts for students who are about to accomplish this important achievement.

What would you do paperweight

I’ve gained quite a bit of experience dealing with creatively designed gifts over the years—from my time as a strategy consultant overseeing a global internet retail research study (that’s when I met UncommonGoods founder Dave Bolotsky), to working in Customer Service (and reporting on company operations) for a holiday season at UncommonGoods in 2002, to joining the team full time (as opposed to consulting) as the head of Merchandising in 2006.

Somewhat out of necessity for creatively designed products that didn’t exist elsewhere, we began creating our own products in-house. As someone with a naturally questioning mind, an imagination for possibilities, a product instinct, and understanding of the creative design attributes that define an uncommon good, my responsibilities changed in the fall of 2011 when I become the Director of New Business and Product Development.

Many of the goods we develop here, as well as many of the items from the talented artists and designers we work with, make great gifts for graduation. Here’s my personal take on grad gifting and some suggestions for special gifts your grads are sure to love.

DIY Embroidery Cards | UncommonGoods

How is choosing a graduation gift different than picking out a gift for another occasion?
Unlike any other occasion, graduation, whether it is high school, college or a graduate degree, is a one-time event in any individual’s life—it is a specific accomplishment and also a milestone marking the end of one stage in a life and the beginning of the next.

What are some personal graduation gifts you’ve given in the past? What made them special?
I try to give gifts that have some meaning to the person—it may be something with an inspirational message, or a personal connection to the individual–and something I hope the person will want to keep.

My “go-to” item is often an inspirational paperweight—some of the ones that I’ve given more than once have been in our assortment for many years, like the What Would You Attempt Paperweight and the Be the Change Paperweight.

When my oldest nephew, a die-hard Yankee fan, graduated from college, he received a pair of Authentic Stadium Seat Cufflinks.

Yankee Stadium Seat Cufflinks | UncommonGoods

For the daughter of a close friend who graduated from high school I chose the Growth Necklace by Mary Steratore. It got a rave review!

Growth NecklaceNecklace Review



What could I give to my graduate’s good friends/classmates who are also graduating that is meaningful, but won’t break the bank? (From our Facebook friend Lora Frye Ross)

My suggestion is the 5: Life Playbook. Because it is a book, you have the option to inscribe a personal note on the inside. This is something that can be given for either high school or college graduation, with thought-provoking quotations and real-life examples that are both a spark and a road map for the next chapter.

5: Life Playbook
5: Life Playbook

Do you have a favorite new product (or products) that you think would make a great grad gift? What do you choose and why is it a great gift?
The Road to Success Paperweight is my favorite new paperweight we created–the combination of the road imagery as part of the design is inspiring and understanding of what life is about.

The Home Plate Paperweight is another great choice, for the same reasons, for someone who is also a baseball fan.

Paperweights | UncommonGoods

The most recent grad gift I’ve given was actually one of our newer products. I gave the She Believed She Could Bangle to the daughter of one of my best friends, who I’ve known all her life when she graduated from college. I felt that a bangle bracelet with this empowering quote was truly a keepsake for her.

She Believed She Could Bangle | UncommonGoods

For more inspiring goods to congratulate grads, visit our entire Graduation Gifts Collection.

Maker Stories

The Art of Meditation: Jayne Riew’s Temporary Canvas

March 28, 2014

Jayne Riew Maker Story | UncommonGoodsWith a background in literature and painting, artist Jayne Riew was always inspired by the combination of words and images, along with the connection between art and psychology. “For me, art is most compelling when it offers greater self-awareness,” says Jayne, explaining her process of creating pieces that people can turn to when they need help. “Sometimes when we wrestle with unwanted thoughts or tough emotions, language fails us.”

The Meditation Box’s temporary canvas of shifting sand provides a private place to confront these feelings; “no one—including yourself—will ever see it again, so why not scrawl out a mantra, confess something to yourself, or even draw the face of someone you wish you could see?” Once you get all of that mental clutter out of your system, you can simply shake the box, close the lid, and walk away.

Jayne created the prototype of the Meditation Box for a friend who admitted that she found it difficult to unplug at night, losing hours of would-be sleep to her laptop. In response, Jayne created her first box as a way for her friend to lighten her mental load at the end of the day. The laptop size felt familiar, while the layer of sand within gave her a space to be alone with her thoughts.

Meditation Box | Jayne Riew Maker Story | UncommonGoodsRecognizing the design’s versatility, Jayne also gifted it to a friend who lost a spouse. He uses the space to write what he would say to her if she were there. When Jayne apologized for the limited space, he pointed out that all the really important things one human needs to communicate to another can be offered in five words or less.

Living with her family in New York City, Jayne uses her own design as a declarative space to help her sort through seemingly never ending busywork, making even a simple to-do list a motivational affirmation. “I’ve actually been able to combat procrastination just by avowing something to myself in writing at the beginning of each day. When you declare things in writing, you see them outside of your mind. Sure, I could write it down on a piece of paper, but the strangeness of the form and the opportunity for play makes me pay attention and remember.”

Design

Developed from Photography: Pop Top Six Pack

March 13, 2014

A few months ago, we learned that photographer Barry Rosenthal creates his extraordinary images of everyday objects right here in the Brooklyn Army Terminal—in a studio just a short jaunt from our very own door. As fans of his work, we couldn’t wait to collaborate with him. Then we saw his thought-provoking “Found in Nature” collection, and we knew that we’d found the perfect art for our latest in-house design, the Pop Top Six Pack glasses.

Pop Top Six Pack | UncommonGoods

“I really admire Barry’s work, so it was fun to work with his photo to translate it into a design for glassware. What I love most about this photo is the composition—the way he artfully arranged the pop tops to create a pattern.” —Sarah Stenseng, Senior Product Development Associate

We’re fascinated with Rosenthal’s photographs of found collections, because even though the objects he shoots were once discarded, he presents them as uniquely beautiful treasures. The photos tell stories through their subject matter and composition. By taking bits of the past and bringing them into the present, Rosenthal creates something timeless. Our goal was to translate this timeless quality to a product that can be used every day, but also stands out as something special.

Barry Rosenthal, Pop Tops

The original photograph, Pop Tops, captures an arrangement of meticulously placed pop tabs the artist collected from the parking lot of Orchard Beach in Bronx, NY. It tells the story of the approximately 475 billion aluminum cans produced worldwide each year—cans that don’t easily break down in nature, and can take centuries to decompose.

Some of the tabs pictured date back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, so their unique shapes add unexpected variation to the composition. The tabs also show their age through weathering in Rosenthal’s unaltered piece.

Pop Tops Design Process | UncommonGoods

With Pop Art in mind, our Product Development Team collaborated with Rosenthal to transform Pop Tops into a new design that celebrates his photography and is infused with a bit of our personality. We started by editing the original photo to remove the natural color and accentuate the silhouettes of the tabs. Next, we carefully extended the pattern to fit completely around the can-shaped glass without interfering with the layout as it was intended.

Pantone

After perfecting the pattern, bright colors were added to play up the Pop Art aspect of the design. Each glass in the set of six is a Pantone color chosen to stand out and show off the pop tab print. As a finishing touch, each glass is complete with Barry Rosenthal’s signature.

Barry Rosenthal

We love the way the final product turned out, and we think you’ll love it too. The Pop Art Six Pack is available now, and we’re looking forward to more exciting collaborative projects to come!

 

Design

Jason Snyder & Briana Feola Meld Great Design with Educational Artwork

January 31, 2014

As product developers, we get the chance to work with a number of really amazing, talented artists and designers. Since launching our first uncommon product, we’ve connected with incredibly interesting people and learned a lot about working with the design community. There’s a lot we could tell you about working with designers – but we realize that there’s something we don’t know much about at all – what it’s like for designers working with us.

We wanted to find out more about the artists’ take on collaborating with UncommonGoods, so we asked some! Recently, we had the pleasure of working with Jason Snyder and Briana Feola of Brainstorm to create our new Earth Science Glasses and Coasters featuring their vibrant and retro-feeling Earth, Atmosphere, Ocean, and Space prints. Not only was the design duo happy to answer our questions about the inspiration behind their art, but they also gave us some great insights into working with the UncommonGoods Product Development team.

Jason & Briana

What was your original inspiration for this series?
After leafing through some vintage science books and thinking to ourselves that the information is so important but the graphics are always less than pleasing to look at, the series started with our “Atmosphere” print. It was a short run, maybe 30 prints, and they received a tremendous response online. So we re-printed that and started to expand on the layered, graphic concept to create a series and round out the concept. Over the course of a year, “Earth” was second and “Ocean” came third.

Earth Science Glasses | UncommonGoods

How was your love of science born?
Briana: Science was the other subject that kept my attention growing up, aside from art class. It was always the most fascinating but so complex at the same time. Coupled with some really great teachers over the years, I was completely hooked. It only makes sense that I try and merge my favorite ideas from my early school days.

Jason: I think science in general carries with it such an immense range of interesting (and complicated) topics and that really lends itself well to education if executed the right way. I have an Art Education degree, so combining these awesome sciences with education is really how a lot of my ideas come together. I don’t even know if that answers the question but that’s what I came up with.

Tell us your favorite science joke.
A photon walks in to the airport and the ticket agent asks him, “Are you checking any bags today?” and he says, “No, I’m traveling light.”

Earth Science Glasses | UncommonGoods

What was your initial thought when UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team contacted you?
We were super excited to get involved and we were ready immediately. We had both been following UncommonGoods for a long time and after meeting some of the awesome team members at the 2013 National Stationery Show, we had hoped there would be an opportunity to work together!

Breana Designing

What was the most challenging thing about working with UncommonGoods? What was the most exciting?
There’s a lot of correspondence that has to happen to get a product off the ground. And the amount of time it takes to go from “let’s do this” to “the product is online” is much longer than we were used to, having the ability to produce our screenprints ourselves as soon as they’re ready. We adopted more patience. Easily the most exciting thing is the day our first product arrived in hands. Going from idea to real product is the best!

How does it feel to have your art on these products?
It feels a little bit surreal. Knowing that these glasses are in kitchen cabinets and kids (and adults!) are drinking out of them and learning a thing or two, it’s just fantastic. We can both remember sitting at the kitchen table as kids reading cereal boxes and looking at colorful, pictorial cups. And now we are a part of the culture in a way we can be proud of.

The Uncommon Life

Getting to Your Intersection of Love: A 6 Step Road Map

January 23, 2014

Intersection of Love | UncommonGoods

Valentine’s Day is approaching and, as the old saying goes, love is in the air. We’re extra giddy about celebrating Saint Valentine’s holiday this year thanks to a special collection of fun new art created by our Product Development team. The Intersection of Love ™ is a way to show the world that your one-and-only has a special place in your heart.

On the other hand, Valentine’s Day can be a total bummer for those who are feeling unlucky not in love. And, since our blog team is made up of women at different points in the journey to the intersection of love, we decided to pool our experiences one night over a couple glasses of wine and share our best advice for those looking to arrive at the corner of commitment.

1. Make an itinerary for your journey. Know who you are and what you want.
Some travelers are just looking for friendship, others are looking for marriage, and some want something in between. Before hitting the road, evaluate what you really want. Look at the map of where you’ve already been to evaluate past relationships, then make a note of where you want to be, who you want to be there with you, and what you want to do to find that person.

2. Choose Your Mode of Transportation
Where will you feel comfortable meeting someone? Many people find love online these days. There’s nothing wrong with that, and although it can be scary setting up that online dating profile, once you make the decision to do it it’s a lot easier than you think!

It’s also okay to go the old-fashioned route. Get out there and attend events where you can meet people with similar interests, talk to your friends to see if they’re interested in setting you up, and don’t feel like you have to commit to the same mode of transportation for the whole ride.

3. Read the Road Signs
You’ll come across some important road signs along the way, so it’s important to be able to read those signals. Some things are easy to pick up on (your potential partner stops texting), but others are a bit more subtle. It’s impossible to tell what another person is thinking, so trust your intuition. Spending time with someone is sort of like taking driver’s ed. You’ll learn new things along the way.

4. Check Your Gas Gauge
You don’t want to run out of gas, but that can happen if you leave a lead foot on the accelerator. It’s okay to tap the brake, or even pull over for a bit if you think you’re going too fast. Keep your tank full by making conscious efforts to keep your relationship exciting. Also, take the time to really think about your relationship and if what you’re putting into it (and getting from it) is creating a mutual valuable experience.  If your tank does start to get low, it’s time to evaluate whether it’s working or if it’s just time to move on.

5. Know When to Flip on Cruise Control
So, you have a full tank of gas and you’re feeling pretty comfortable? When your relationship is in a good place, you don’t always have to stress about what’s next. When you get to this point, make time to enjoy just hanging out together (even if you don’t have big plans), get to know each other’s friends and family, and learn little things about each other you didn’t know before. Sometimes it’s fine to relax and take in the scenery.

6. Knowing When You’ve Arrived at the Intersection of Love
When you reach the intersection, you can pretty much drive with your eyes closed (though we certainly don’t recommend doing that on any actual road trip). When you’re both in the same place emotionally and have the same idea of what it means to “arrive” then it’s almost as if your GPS has announced “Destination on left.”

Disclaimer: The blog team at UncommonGoods are not relationship experts. We don’t have degrees in interpersonal psychology, and the advice in this post probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. However, we do sincerely hope you find your way to the intersection of love!


Intersection of Love | UncommonGoods

Design

Inspiration for Innovators: A New Collection of Patent Art

November 12, 2013

Creativity is one of our greatest joys and highest values at UncommonGoods. It makes us so happy when we come across or develop an imaginative, original design, artwork, or product that will bring something special into our customers’ lives. We’re in awe of the creative geniuses throughout history whose ideas, experiments, innovations and inventions have transformed life altogether.

Actress Susan Cabot as a chemist inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp WomanActress Susan Cabot as a chemist/inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp Woman

Learning about how great inventors and product designers have pursued their ideas from dream to reality, persisting through the grueling effort of iterative failures and breakthroughs, is incredibly inspiring. Our Product Development team wanted to create a new wall art collection that would link the often quiet presence of innovation in our daily lives to the grand and sometimes dramatic history of invention.

Thomas Edison with lightbulbThomas Edison looking stern while holding a light bulb

Thinking about history led them to the National Archives online collection. Then they had their light bulb moment. What’s a more universally-recognized symbol of inspiration than… the incandescent light bulb itself? What more prolific inventor has there been than Thomas Edison, with his 1,093 patents? And how cool is it that the National Archives collection includes some great-looking documents that were central to Edison’s most transformative inventions? (Answers: None, None, and Very.)

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